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Thinking Your Way To Victory
Course Strategy

Proper course strategy results in lower scoresProper Course Strategy Saves Strokes!

A competitor without a game plan is like a captain out to sea without a compass. Without a plan, a golfer is simply whacking away on the course in hopes that he or she has a lucky day and always lands the ball in the optimum spot without any forethought. Sure we have all had days like this where Lady Luck is on our side and we seem to be in the zone and on cruise control. Golf however is a game of strategy and without it, you can easily fall into peril and "check mate" yourself right out of the round.

The best players in the game have by far been the best minds in the game. Jack Nicklaus has often been referred to as the "great strategist" or the "great analyst." It's this aspect of Jack's game that often encourages comparisons between he and Tiger Woods, as Tiger is known to play with precise strategy, stick to his game plan and hit the shots that the course calls for on each and every play.

Every golf course sets up differently and every course has a precise design or layout. The golf course architect didn't just start digging away and throw a bunch of consecutive holes together. Intense thought went into the design imagining where a player might place his or her good shots vs. where his or her mis hits might end up.

No other game combines the wonder of nature with the discipline of sport in such carefully planned ways. A great golf course both frees and challenges a golfer's mind. - Tom Watson

It is the goal of every golfer, or should be rather, to beat the golf course. That means mastering the layout and placing the ball with each swing in the best position to execute the next shot.

High Handicappers Need a Gameplan Too!

With that being said, it's easier said than done for the average to high handicapper, because where their shots go is often unpredictable. Without consistency, it's hard to master your game plan, but regardless you need to have one and stick with it even if you aren't executing it 100%. Even on days when you are totally off, sticking with your game plan will still result in lower scores and bring your stress level down. It's easy to fall apart and start worrying about your swing mechanics, but when you have a game plan to follow, it helps you stay out of your own head and focused on the shot at hand.

It takes a while to learn how to be proficient at course strategy. For most golfers, it doesn't happen automatically. It is actually something a golfer needs to practice and be more aware of before he or she tees off. Before a round you should take the time to sit back, think of the course (or look at the map on the scorecard if you've never played) and form a game plan for each hole. Even on courses you play every day, you are constantly learning and may need to revise your plan as your game matures or your ball flight changes. Here is a great quote about Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Master's.

I can't think of another course in the world that the more you play, the more you learn. - Jim Furyk

I believe that is actually true of every course. You learn more about the course each time you play it, but you also learn about yourself and your game.

You Have to Know Your Own Game

A big part of learning how to apply course strategy is awareness of what's actually going on in your game. I remember playing golf in college and still bombing driver on every hole. I had started at the age of 5 and had been told over and over by coaches and pros to only hit driver when the hole called for it. Being a slightly built female however, I always felt the need to get the ball down the fairway as far as possible. It was interesting how during one college event I committed myself to playing only the smart and somewhat conservative shots around the course that day and had one of my lowest rounds ever. It was like a light bulb went off and I simply focused on playing smart for a change. I couldn't believe how easy the game could be!

On another occasion, our college coach took us out to an open field one day and taught us another lesson on awareness. She was convinced we didn't know our carry distances and all thought we carried the ball farther than we did. She had an assistant with her and marked off 150 yards in the field with 10 yard increments. She bravely stood out there as we hit all of our short irons and recorded where the ball landed. (Not to date myself, but this was obviously in the days before launch monitors and lasers were readily available!) Low and behold, we were all off by at least 10 yards as we only knew our total distance after roll not the carry distance for each club. Having this awareness helped us to better know our own games and plan our rounds with more precise strategy.

Know your game, your strengths, your weaknesses, your yardages and head into each round with a good strategic plan. Stay focused, stick to your plan and enjoy a more successful and stress free round.

Maria Palozola

Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.

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